Imagine your husband’s just been elected mayor of a very young city. You have a role, but no script. No one knows what to expect of you. Including you.
As Mayor Denis Shortal prepares to end his 11 years of service to the city of Dunwoody, I spent some time with Meredy Shortal, who has been a very visible First Lady, to hear how she figured it all out.
When I asked her how she felt when her husband announced he wouldn’t run for another term, she said, “My first thought was, ‘Good thing I haven’t cut the tags off all those new clothes I just bought.’”
Called a Doris Day lookalike in her college days, she sees herself now as a cross between that star of music and movies and newspaper columnist Erma Bombeck. Clearly, she’s doesn’t take herself too seriously. But her role as First Lady is another matter.
She’s been through four campaigns during which she knocked on more than 4,000 doors and has attended 90 percent of all the City Council meetings during her husband’s tenure as a councilmember, mayor pro tem and mayor.
“Part of my job is to listen and bring back comments and feelings from the community to Denny,” she said.
“Besides supporting me, Meredy is well-known in her own right for her volunteer work,” said the mayor. “She leads by her actions. She doesn’t just talk the walk; she walks the walk.”
As a radio-and-TV major at the University of Missouri, she learned the art of communication and honed it as a writer for the local CBS affiliate in St. Louis. As Dunwoody’s First Lady, she’s used those communication skills to promote the non-profits she feels are “the backbone of the city.”
“A city is a lot more than paved streets, synchronized stop lights, well-positioned bike racks and an abundance of sports fields,” she said. “I’ve tried to see what each of the major nonprofits needed and fulfill that need with my talents, be it writing or fundraising.”
She considers herself a “cheerleader” for the Stage Door Players, where she’s been a board member for the past five years.
“We are entertained, educated and enthralled week after week, year after year, at the Stage Door Players,” she said.
Her love of live theater shows in the annual fundraisers she has co-organized and all the fundraising tickets she has personally sold. Those include 40 percent of the total tickets for last spring’s theatrical fundraiser, “Murder in the Vineyard.”
“She’s very fiscally responsible, always looking out for the welfare of the organization,” said Stage Door Artistic Director Robert Egizio. “She’s also one of our biggest liaisons with the city and local businesses.”
“I try to make sure we don’t spend money we don’t have,” she said.
To do that, she often does work that paid staff would do at a larger organization, such as writing grants, arranging for the donation of new front doors and ensuring that the city keeps the entrance and walkway clean.
Beyond the performing arts, she’s worked for the continuing beautification of Dunwoody as a co-organizer of the Dunwoody Garden Club’s major fundraiser, its annual fashion show.
At the Dunwoody Woman’s Club, she’s found no job too large or too small. In addition to co-organizing the annual home tour, she also books the homes, sells the tickets and serves as a house monitor.
She believes her legacy to Dunwoody is enthusiasm for contributing time and talent to the community.
“My hope is that more of our truly wonderful citizens will find their niche, roll up their sleeves and see what a great journey volunteering can be,” she said.
Her most visible legacy is the Dunwoody Adopt-a-Bench program, which she started in partnership with the city Parks and Recreation Department and the Woman’s Club in 2014. Since its inception, more than 60 green, vinyl-coated steel benches with personalized commemorative plaques have been purchased by private citizens and businesses and installed throughout the city’s parks.
Meredy has not only personally sold many of the benches, but she also wrote the promotional brochure that is available at dunwoodywomansclub.com. The benches sell for $1,000, their cost to the city.
“The benches are for happy things — celebrating an anniversary, honoring a loved one, thanking a friend or showcasing a business or organization,” she said. “They’re so Dunwoody.”
And so Meredy.